The Power of Dark Honey

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For many beekeepers–in this part of Maine at least–this year’s season was a bit of a struggle.  A spell of hot sweltering days meant that flowers were not producing adequate nectar supplies, which was then followed by a period of rainy days that kept bees cooped up inside their hives, eating honey stores.  I know several of our local beekeepers were somewhat disappointed in the spring crop, and that’s nothing compared to the struggle the season offered to newly established hives.

But we held out hope for the fall season, which brings a plentiful nectar flow in this part of the region, and our faith was rewarded with a bountiful harvest.  New colonies that had been struggling all season came up to speed, and honey supers were filled to overflowing.

dark fall honeyThe dark color of this year’s fall honey crop was a bit startling at first.  I knew that the goldenrod, the Japanese knotweed, and the buckwheat that my bees had had access to in their respective apiaries, were plants more likely to produce a darker honey than many other floral sources, but this honey is nearly black!

The color of the honey sparked some debate here at Runamuk, and so upon research and further investigation, it was discovered that the darker the honey–the more healthful benefits could be derived from the honey!

Honey is good medicine

Throughout history humanity has prized honey for it’s medicinal and healthful properties, along with it’s irresistible sweetness.  Ancient Egyptians made offerings of honey to their gods, used it as an embalming fluid, and also as a dressing on wounds.

Today people still swarm to honey for it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.  And recent studies have indicated that the darker the honey the stronger those medicinal powers are going to be.

“Not all nectars are created equal, thus not all honeys are created equal.” says Gene Robinson.

What the bees eat determines the level of antioxidants in the honey they produce.

Scientists at the University of Illinois analyzed 19 different samples of honey from 14 different floral sources, and discovered that honey produced from Illinois buckwheat flowers offers 20-times the antioxidants compared to honey produced by bees eating the nectar and pollen of California sage.

Notably, clover–one of the most common floral sources for bees–scored in the middle of the researcher’s rankings.

Antioxidants inhibit the oxidation of molecules, which can happen when a chemical reaction occurs that transfers electrons or hydrogen into an oxidizing agent.  That event can produce free radicals–starting a chain reaction which may cause damage or death to cells within the body.

In a study funded by the Illinois Value-Added Research Program and the National Honey Board, and published in the Journal of Apicultural Research–it was found that darker honey has less water and more antioxidants than lighter-colored honey.

May Berenbaum, one of the study’s co-authors–who is head of the University of Illinois’ entomology department, and also a researcher for the University of Illinois Functional Foods for Health program–says:

“Not all honeys are the same.  The antioxidant content of buckwheat honey compares favorably, pretty much bite for bite, with the ascorbic acid-related antioxidant content of tomatoes.  Gram for gram, antioxidants in buckwheat honey equal that of fruits and vegetables such as sweet corn or tomatoes.”

Honey and the Common Cold

According to some studies, honey can even relieve symptoms of the common cold.  In Maryland, Dr. Ariane Cometa, MD, uses a buckwheat honey-based syrup, claiming honey calms inflamed membranes and eases a cough.  Scientific studies have proven that honey does a better job suppressing nighttime coughs than some man-made medicines.

In a study that included 139 children, honey beat dextromethorphan–a cough suppressant–and diphenhydramine–an antihistamine–in easing a nighttime cough in children and improving their sleep.

Another study involving 105 children found buckwheat honey beat out dextromethorphan in suppressing nighttime coughs.

*Pediatricians caution against feeding honey to children under the age of 1.

And so….

fall honey on a beehiveHoney varies widely in color, water composition and sugar content, ash, nitrogen and metal content.  No two honeys are alike, but they are all equally delectable.  I aspire to travel the world, tasting and sampling honeys from various countries and regions of the world, much like a wine connoisseur might do.  What a trip that would be!  Meeting beekeepers from all over the world and tasting all sorts of different varieties of honey!

What’s your favorite type of honey?

Resources & References

Dark Honey Has More Illness-Fighting Agents Than Light Honey – from Science Daily

Medicinal Uses of Honey: What the Research Shows – from WebMD

Antioxidants and Your Immune System: Super Foods for Optimal Health – from WebMD

Antioxidant – from Wikipedia

Share your thoughts, comments or questions!